Category Archives: 2013 Hunting

2013 Idaho Elk Hunt

It started snowing in the high country about a week before my Elk hunt. Since I had never hunted this area in these conditions, I didn’t know if the snow would push the Elk I had located during the Basin of Bulls scouting trip. There was only about a foot of snow in that part of the high country and so the big decision was still whether to go in high or go in low. After much deliberation I decided to go in high. The forecast was mostly clear for opening day but a little more snow was expected the day before and the day after. It was early November and the winter weather was here to stay.

The day before the opener I arrived to my takeoff point about mid morning and started hiking in. It was slow going with the snow on the ground this time, but it wasn’t nearly as deep as I thought it would be. I was gaining confidence with every step that going in high was a good decision. I made it to a suitable camp site and set up my shelter in the late afternoon just as it started snowing.


I then started collecting firewood for my homemade stove that I fashioned out of a mailbox. This was difficult in these conditions and it took the rest of the day to get a good stockpile. The only dry wood in wet conditions is usually the dead branches that are up off the ground, still attached to the bottom of the trees, and covered by the tree canopy. However, even a lot of this squaw wood as it’s called, had a layer of frost on it from the wind combined with the moist air.


Since I was in a fog bank  I didn’t bother glassing that night, instead I headed up to the lake to resupply on water. Half the lake was covered in ice and the water was really cold. These are good conditions to use a pump in order to keep your hands out of the water, but I was using Aqua Mira type tablets in order to cut pack weight so my glove came off and my hand got wet to dip the bladder.


Upon returning to camp, I got a fire going in my home made stove and prepared my gear for the next day. A stove in your floorless shelter in these conditions is keystone to making these late high elevation snowy hunts comfortable and productive. It’s the difference between “surviving” and “living” on these hunts. It really pumped out the heat, and it wasn’t long before I was down to my base layer and unzipping the doors part way on my shelter.


Due to the expected conditions and nighttime temperature I had packed in two sleeping bags to combat the cold temperatures. Although heavy, it worked out great and I slept plenty warm. A good nights sleep is one of the most crucial steps to a successful backpack hunt in any season. I have learned the hard way that I sleep cold and to take whatever steps necessary to stay warm, no matter what the weight penalty is.

It snowed most of the night and the next morning I was up before daylight and headed to my glassing point. It was clear and crisp as the sun came up and I could feel the temperature dropping as I started the last scramble to the top. The talus slope was covered with snow this time actually making parts of the scramble a little easier.


I got to my glassing spot and set up just in time to see the herd of Elk across the basin about a mile and a half below. They were heading up to the top of the ridge that runs along the bottom of the basin and perpendicular to my glassing location. The main hiking trail runs just on the other side of this long ridge in the bottom of the canyon. I could see one of the five point Bulls among the cows and as I was glassing the rest of the hillside, I heard a shot. The Elk spooked and headed single file up the ridge for a couple hundred yards and disappeared over the top to the trail side. Some other hunters had come in from the bottom and the Elk where way down low on the ridge that is adjacent to the main hiking trail. They hunted it just right for those conditions! I waited and glassed for another 45 minutes to see if the herd was going to follow the ridge all the way up closer to where I was, but I never saw them come back over.

I wasn’t terribly disappointed, I knew before I left that I had a narrow window of opportunity for this hunt to work. I needed to be on the Elk first thing in the morning and have a Bull down by mid morning in order to have enough time to pack the meat out before the next storm came in and the road I drove in on potentially got impassible. Even if the other hunters hadn’t come in from the bottom, the Elk were still to far away and I still would have been out of luck. I now knew where the Elk lived, and with more snow in the next couple of days, they would get pushed back to that sunny southerly slope. This is also where I had seen them on the Hell Hole scouting trip I made in to the area over the summer. I had a game plan and was already looking forward to the next hunt.

I watched the weather carefully the rest of the week and it snowed every day. It wasn’t until the last day of the season that the forecast was clear and so I headed out the day prior to the last day of the season. This time I was coming in from the bottom and once again I was on a time crunch, only this time it was due to the end of the season approaching. I had a plan and it was going to make for a long day, but with a good probability for success. I would need to hike all the way to end of the canyon and then get up on the ridge in order to stay upwind and hunt my way down to them at the snowline. Also this way I would have a better chance at encountering the Bulls first as they usually bed higher than the cows. This would be a 7 mile hike up the canyon and then a 1200 foot scramble up the side of the mountain to get into position on the ridge and I would split it up in two days.

I was the only one at the trailhead when I arrived mid morning. There was fresh Horse shit on the trail the whole way in, but no evidence of a camp at the foot of the ridge. I dropped camp at the foot of the ridge where the creek came out of the basin.This is where I would end my hunt the next day and at about half way up the canyon. I was much lower in elevation this time and the ground was clear of snow with lot’s of dry wood available. What a difference a few thousand feet make.


I had a little time at the end of the day so I did a little recon and followed the trail up the canyon a little. I saw a few Cows feeding on top of the ridge above camp right where I expected them to be. Things were looking good so far and it was going to be a good hunt.

I had a lot of ground to cover the next morning and so I started hiking a little after 4 AM. I left my spotting scope in the truck and my tripod in camp, I was going to still hunt the ridge and all I needed were my 8X binoculars at this point. I made it up the canyon and a little ways up the mountain by the time it started to get light out.


The snow was getting deeper the farther up I went and it slowed me down considerably, I finally hit the top of the ridge at about 12:30 AM after a tough scramble trudging through the snow up the side of the mountain. It was one of those nice clear sunny days after a snowstorm, great for Elk hunting!


I was a mile or more above where the Elk were going to be, and needed to descend down to the snowline. I glassed my way down the ridge and about an hour latter, started getting to the snowline. I cut a fresh set of Fox tracks and heard the Magpies squawking. It looked like those other hunters were successful and If I didn’t see anything I could always follow the Fox tracks and Magpie squawks to the carcass for fun. As I continued to slowly hunt my way down the ridge I started to see more fresh Fox tracks which got me more interested in following the tracks to the carcass and possibly collecting a nice Cross Fox Pelt. A few more steps later I saw A Bull through some brush bedded out in the open on top of the ridge. I was in a low spot with the bush in front of me, and only my head and shoulders were somewhat visible to him so he wasn’t too concerned yet. He was about 60 yards out and I could easily see through my binoculars that he was the small brown 5 point I had seen while scouting. I scanned around looking for the bigger Bulls, but couldn’t see much from where I was. I know better than to move around to much, so I quickly ended my search and debated on whether or not to take this Bull. This was the smallest Bull out of the four Bulls I had watched while scouting and I was really hoping for a shot on one of the bigger ones. This was the last afternoon of the season, and this was my last opportunity for the year, so I took it. I shot him in his bed at about 50 yards and he got up and stumbled one way, than the other, and I shot him again to anchor him so he didn’t head down the mountain. He was a nice symmetrical 5 point but with a miniature set of antlers, a classic raghorn.

IMG_1494  IMG_1495

Even these small Bulls are huge animals as compared to Deer! I hastily began breaking him down and filling meat sacks. When I’m this far from the truck I like to fillet the meat off the bone. The hillside was mostly open and I had no choice but to hang my meat in the sun for a while as I continued to butcher away. Although sunny, it was still a cool November day so I wasn’t to worried about spoilage for the hour or so the meat was exposed while I finished up. I put the backstraps in one bag, each rear quarter in two bags, and the front quarters and neck in the other.


When I finished up, I had about 2 hours of daylight left and I taxied the meat down the ridge towards camp a little ways. I made it about half way down the mountain by dark and cached it for the night. I shot the Elk right about where I expected too and had the logistics of the pack out planned prior to the hunt, it was just a matter of carrying out the plan from this point forward. I went ahead and hauled camp, backstraps, and the head back to the truck that night. I wanted to take the head home to practice my Elk caping skills with, so I packed it out whole. It was a long heavy hike out that night, but the adrenaline of the harvest got me through it once again. With all the awkward stuff and camp already packed out, all I had to do the next day was pack the meat the 5 miles out.

I started up the trail the next morning at first light and made it to my meat cache about noon. It was going to be a long day, but I felt I could get it all out that day.


To save time and another trip up the mountain, I loaded all three sacks of remaining meat in my pack. This made an awkward load but a good quality rigid framed pack like my Kifaru can handle it while maintaining the best level of comfort a 100 pound plus load can have. These Kifaru packs and frames excel in long distance load hauling.

Kifaru 4800 Highcamp with Bikini Frame full of Elk meat.

This consisted of all four boned out quarters and it was so heavy that I had to put the pack on while sitting down and then roll over to my belly and kind of crawl up to my feet. It was a slow trip down and I made it with only one slip out, luckily it was so steep my ass didn’t have far to fall. When I got to the bottom I was wore out so I did the reaming 4 and a half miles in two loads.The flatness of the trail was a relief.


I would pack a load for about a half hour, hang it, and go back to get the other one carrying it about a half hour past the first one. This method slowly gets the meat closer and closer and by the end of the day, or the next day, you don’t have to hike way back in again. For longer distances I prefer this method and for shorter distances, 3 miles or less, I just go ahead and make two or three whole trips. I did the last mile and a half in the dark and finally left the trailhead at about 9 PM that night. It was a great hunt and a lot of fun, but I was glad to be finally heading home for a warm shower and greasy meal.

I finished trimming and packaging all of the meat a couple days later, and we made some delicious backstrap sandwiches for dinner. We eat Elk at least once a week and each meal brings me closer and closer to the next season.

Backstrap Sandwich
Backstrap Sandwich



The Rolling Stone Buck Hunt

The long awaited for Idaho General Deer season was finally here. On the afternoon of October 9, 2013 prior to opening day, I headed up the highway to my primary hunting spot to hunt The Rolling Stone Buck. This is now the second season I will have been trying to harvest this Buck and I had a good feeling about it this time. I had scouted the area a lot over the past 2 years and had a good grasp on where I would see the Bucks and how to not be detected in the process. The terrain and wind is complicated in this area. The mountains are big and the slope I see the Bucks on is nothing but steep avalanche chutes. The wind this time of year is still variable throughout most of the day with not much consistency. Despite the difficulty’s I had a few strategy’s worked out and another seasons worth of lessons learned to apply to the situation.

I opted to set up camp at the trail head and hike the mile and a half in each morning, so as to minimize the risk of spooking the Deer with my presence in their home range. Even busting a Doe from the bottom of the canyon put’s the Deer on high alert, which pushes the Bucks into the timber where you will never see them. There is a network of trails in this area that the Deer and Elk use exclusively for traveling and escaping. They all keep their eyes and noses on these trails, both to detect incoming danger and to detect fleeing siblings. I still don’t know where the Bucks go when they get spooked off that slope, so this hunt is a one hit wonder for now. I suppose I could push the envelope and foot hunt the timber, but the odds of success are very low when your on the move. All that usually happens is you educate the deer and makes things more difficult for future hunts to that area.

I had a little time in the afternoon after getting camp set up, so I headed up the side of the canyon to glass the hillside I planned to hike up the next morning. This is good practice because if you spook something hiking to your glassing spot, your hunt could be done before it legally starts. When the sun went down I heard a bugle and saw a Raghorn with a small herd of cows and calves feeding on the mountain I wanted to glass from the next morning.  Luckily they were not where I planned on sitting and I could sneak around them such that if I spook them they would go the opposite direction and the Bucks would probably not know. I took pictures and video of the Elk, but never saw any Deer that evening.


I gave myself about 2 hours the next morning to get up, hike in, and get into the first glassing position. This worked out just about right this time. I heard the Raghorn bugle a couple hundred yards behind me at first light as I began to glass for the day and was relieved to know I must have snuck in without being detected. I was on a northerly slope glassing to a southeasterly slope and it was very cold, I had all my layers on to combat the hard freeze but was still getting chilled. I glassed until 11 AM and didn’t see anything that morning. I knew from scouting that those particular Bucks bed by then so I ate a butthole sandwich and headed back to camp for a couple hours to take a nap.


For the 3 PM feeding I glassed a shade pocket on a different part of the slope where I had seen a Buck feeding in the afternoon the prior season. I always seem to see Deer and Elk up and feeding at around 3 PM for 30 or 40 minutes, even on hot days. That time frame has become my most productive evening glassing time in this area as well as others. However nothing was there this evening, not even an Elk.

Opening day came and went. It was pretty slow to say the least, but I know from experience that patience always pays off, especially when your hunting a low density area in October. Or maybe we just tell ourselves that to justify being stubborn. I tentatively decided that evening to give it at least 3 mornings before packing up and giving the area a rest. That’s usually about what it takes in lower density areas. There is only about 3 Bucks in this drainage and I can only effectively glass the one area of their home range so it takes time for them to move through.

The next morning started out the same, then around 8:00 I got to watch a couple Cows and Calves trot up the bottom of the canyon below me. They acted as if they may have been spooked out of the main canyon, but I never saw anyone. I found a little bit better place to glass from that morning, but it was just as cold on that shady north slope as the day before. When the sun gets high enough in the sky to finally hit you, it sure feels good to soak up the heat and thaw out for a while.


Around 11:00 AM I ate and headed back to camp again. This time to change things up instead of napping, I spent the middle of the day prospecting in the creek near camp. I came up empty on that too, but it was a nice change of pace.


I had a great feeling about the third morning. I had not seen any Deer thus far and it was about time for the Bucks to have moved to the part of their home range I was watching. I was a little earlier getting to my spot that morning and it seemed to be even colder. Within the first 5 minutes of glassing I spotted 2 Bucks. Closer inspection showed me it was Sleepy and the small 3 point. Shortly after I spotted them Sleepy bedded out in the open about 8:00 AM, just as he did when I first found him in July. This time they where about a half mile further up the canyon and I could not find The Rolling Stone Buck, he didn’t seem to be with them.

sleepybedded sideview

I knew from scouting in July that these Bucks where going to get up and move in 30 or 40 minutes to more cover for the rest of the day. As I watched him chew his cud, the reality that the Rolling Stone Buck was off by himself in the timber started to set in. He was an older age class Deer now and I gave him a lesson last season on that slope. Initially I didn’t want to go after Sleepy, but I caved in. I’m there to hunt and this was an opportunity at a nice 150 class Idaho public land Buck. At the very least I could educate him too and have two big Bucks to chase next season. At about 9:30 ish they got up and headed for some thicker shade. I marked Sleepy using a dead tree I called toothpicks, due to the trunk splitting into 4 smaller trunks about half way up. This was a very recognizable feature. The 3 point bedded a little bit below Sleepy. I made one last scan across the whole slope, and saw something almost straight across from me and up high on the mountain. It turned out to be 2 Elk feeding. I was going to have to sneak by these Elk in order to get to the Buck. I remembered from before how steep the slope was and figured it would take me 4 or 5 hours to go around, sneak by the Elk or at least flush them uphill, and get on the Buck . The hunt was finally on.

I scrambled up the mountain under the mid day sun and as I got close to the top the wind became steady and from a different direction. Out of all 360 directions the wind can come from it will usually change half way through the stalk and end up coming from behind you. I have yet to find a way around this. I was still about a half mile from the Buck and maybe even a little uphill so I stayed optimistic and forged on.


It was close to 3 PM when I finally got to where I could start to see “toothpicks”. I was going extremely slow and the slope was just as steep as last year making it very difficult to keep solid footing. The biggest issue in this type of terrain is the random rocks rolling down the mountain as you step. There is no way to get in range without causing a little bit of an avalanche, but I managed to do pretty good with careful footing this time. I was able to verify “toothpicks” with a picture I had taken through my spotting scope and positioned myself the best I could before cresting the next high spot. I knew I was close and I scanned with my binoculars constantly. The mountain looked way different now that I was on it and I didn’t know exactly where the Buck was bedded. I wanted to search around for his tracks but this would just cause a lot of racket and movement. When I got to where I could see pretty good over the high spot I was able to see the tree clump that I thought the Buck bedded in. I didn’t see the Buck though. I slowly proceeded scanning the rest of the slope with my binoculars until I got within 50 yards of the tree clump and still nothing. When I finally got to the tree clump there was in fact a deer bed in it, but I really could not tell if the Buck had bedded there that morning. It was for sure not being heavily used. There was a large deep canyon just beyond the tree clump and it is entirely possible that the Buck continued into the canyon to bed somewhere else. I could not see into this canyon from where I was glassing that morning and in hindsight it would have been smarter to move up the ridge when I first spotted the Bucks so as to get more straight across from them and watch them bed more precisely. I was not terribly disappointed, It was still a challenging and fun stalk. In fact in a way I am kind of glad I was unsuccessful, because now next year there will be two even bigger Bucks to hunt!


The Tripod Buck Hunt

On September 14th 2013 I headed out for the first hunt of the season. This was the General Season early rifle hunt in one of the Frank Church Wilderness units. My scouting trip into this area a few weeks earlier yielded very little results. It took 3 days to find a Buck and Elk sign was nonexistent. Based on this scouting trip, I opted to not buy an Elk tag for this area and decided to focus on Deer and Wolf for the hunt. I intended on going back to hunt the Buck called Frank but plan A was quickly foiled by road conditions. Although my truck is capable enough to have crossed this, I decided to play it safe due to the pending rain in the forecast. It could easily wash out to a point that wouldn’t allow me to get back while I was on the hunt and then I’d be screwed!

Time for plan B
Time for plan B

This is a great example of the importance of plan B and sometimes plan C. I had only physically been into the area that was on the other side of this washout, but I had scouted other areas on the map. When I see Deer off the road on the way in to an area I plan to scout, I take note and study the map of that area as an alternative for next time. For this occasion I had actually seen a decent Buck cross the road in another area, so I had no hesitation in where to go next (plan B).

He wasn’t a very big Buck, but he had character and I’m more than happy with that. I will call him the Tripod Buck, for the tripod of points he had on one side and I knew he would be near where I had seen him cross the road because that was part of his home range. I reviewed my map and picked out a location that would give me a good vantage point, especially a good view of the ridge I had seen him head for 2 weeks or so earlier, and started hiking.


It was a slippery initial hike due to the steep loose ground and I had to cross a rock slide again. Crossing these rock slides is starting to equate to seeing Deer on the trip.


When I made it to the top of the ridge I started looking for a flat enough spot to make camp. This was difficult and I ended up having to hike a little farther along the ridge than I really wanted to, but I found a great little bowl that had some flat ground, protection from the wind, and a view.

Camp location is very critical in these burn areas. All the trees are ready to fall down at any time from just the slightest bit of wind. You really want to take into account which way trees are leaning and which way the wind is blowing and set up accordingly. Go ahead and assume they are going to fall down in the middle of the night!

I found a relatively flat area that wasn’t in the path of any widowmakers and set up my BCS2. It was mid afternoon by now and so I took a rest once I got situated. I really like the convenience of the dual doors on the BCS2.

Looking out my backdoor!
Looking out my backdoor!

After an enjoyable rest I headed up the ridge above camp to find a glassing location. Despite the vantage point I was on, I wanted to look over the basin and ridge where the Buck had headed to first. In the last ten minutes of light I spotted 2 Deer heading up hill about half a mile directly across the basin from me. I watched them through the spotting scope as long as I could before it just got to dark to see. I could tell they where Bucks, but couldn’t get a good look at them. The lingering glare from the sun combined with the distance was just a little more than my spotting scope could handle. Despite the darkness, when they skylined themselves on the ridge I was able to briefly get a look at the antlers. One was a forky or small 3 point and the other was the Tripod Buck I had seen crossing the road while scouting. I could make out that he was about 24″ wide and looked like a 3 point on one side with some small stickers on his tines and main beam. On the other side he was a 4 point with his rear forks being a crabby tripod, technically a five point I guess. These Bucks were on the move and combined with the glare, I couldn’t get any pictures, but he had great character and the hunt was on for tomorrow when the season opened.

The next morning I got up on the peak just above camp and glassed a new basin and the slope that held the Bucks the night before. I had hoped that they would come back and bed in the same spot for the day, but it was beginning to look like that wasn’t going to happen. After the first hour and a half of the day I had not seen anything in the basin nor the slope, so I moved off the peak and along the ridge that split the two basins I was interested in to the next glassing spot. There where Buck and a few Bull tracks all along this ridge of varying ages. I was defiantly in an area they use. By the end of the morning I had made it to the last peak on the ridge and had a good view of the slope and ridge that the Bucks where on the night before. I still hadn’t seen anything by about 10:30 AM and I knew that they where probably bedded down by now wherever they where. I could now see that there where some pretty good timber patches in the direction they had headed the night before on the backside of the slope that would be a great place to “hole up” for the season. From the ridge I was on I could hear the ATV’s going up and down the road and I know the Bucks could too. It makes sense that they would move over the hill to a more secluded part of their range. Perhaps that was exactly what they where doing last night when everyone was showing up and also why they didn’t feed much as they went over the hill.

I didn’t want to get any closer to the area, so after my morning glassing sessionI headed down into the basin behind me to get water. There was a lake that looked fairly close, but it ended up being about a 600 foot decent and about a mile away.


I stocked up on water, ate, and loafed around for a while. It would be a good place to camp, but then my scent would be carried by the thermals up to some of the ridges around the basin, and I would have to climb 6 or 7 hundred feet every morning to glass new area. This isn’t always real efficient and will tire you out quickly. There where a lot of fairly fresh Elk sign in the meadows adjacent to the lake and I had kind of wished I had got an Elk tag. They where in the area, but it would be one of the toughest pack outs there is especially for the smaller antlered Elk that the area is known for.

I made it back up on the ridge by about 3:00 PM and began glassing from the peak just above where I had seen the Bucks. A lot of times in Idaho I have seen Bucks get up around 3 to feed around and change beds. Even if they are still in the shade, they seem to like to change the direction they are facing due to the shifting breezes throughout the day. They tend to face downwind so they can see and hear in the direction that they can’t smell.

I had a great view of the area they where in the day before but still didn’t see anything, it was starting to get discouraging. I headed back along the ridge towards camp, with the plan now to be glassing from where I was yesterday and at the same time. I glassed thoroughly after the sun went down until I couldn’t see anymore with no results once again.

It rained a little that night and it made my shelter quite a bit heavier when I packed it up. Today was the last day of the hunt and since this Buck was not a monster, I decided to get aggressive and still hunt through the area he was in and then head back down the mountain. I glassed until about 10 AM from the usual spots with the usual results and then moved in to where they crossed the saddle 2 days prior. I wanted to find their tracks and then track them if possible. I did find a lightly rained on Buck track, but the ground in that area wasn’t very conducive to tracks like the other areas. So I just went ahead and still hunted the thicker timbered areas within a square mile in the traditional fashion for the bulk of the day with no results. This also gives me a good understanding of how the terrain really is rather than what it looks like from half a mile away. Next time I hunt this area I will have an advantage when it comes time to make a stalk.

I usually don’t expect much when hunting areas that I haven’t scouted, but this trip turned out to be another good one. I saw Bucks and learned a new area! I am looking forward to watching this Buck for the next few years, and in hindsight kind of glad I didn’t get him If he survives, he might turn out to be a really spectacular nontypical.